Study Reveals 1% of Doctors Named in Majority of Malpractice Claims

Stephanie Reid | February 12th, 2016

female patient with doctor

According to a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, a startling number of the nation’s malpractice claims are tied to just a small number of practitioners. According to data derived by the study – and more fully explained below – just one percent of America’s physicians are named in one-third of the medical malpractice claims filed by injured patients.

Of these claims, one-third involved the death of the patient, while 54 percent involved “major” or “significant” injuries to the plaintiff. The study, which was conducted by researchers affiliated with both Stanford University and Australia’s University of Melbourne, reviewed 67,000 paid malpractice claims against 54,000 physicians spanning from 2004 through 2015 – and is the first study of its kind to review the distribution of malpractice claims across the physician population.

Data reveals certain doctors are ‘claim prone’

Researchers engaged in the study relied on data compiled by U.S. National Practitioner Data Bank, a digital information storage center implemented by Congress in 1986 to help improve the quality of national healthcare. Part of the information stored in the bank includes information relating to medical malpractice payouts and any occurrence of an adverse action against a physician, such as prohibition from participation in programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

Overall, out of the 54,000 physicians studied, just six percent had ever had a paid claim – or just 3,240 doctors. Out of this group, one percent of physicians were involved in two or more paid claims, for a total amount of 32 percent of all malpractice paid claims across the nine-year research period. In this group, the average payout to the patient or surviving family members was $371,000.

Defendants in malpractice litigation

The study also reviewed some of the common characteristics of medical malpractice defendants, including:

  • More likely to be male
  • Practice areas with the highest number of claims include neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons and obstetricians
  • Internists had the lowest rate of malpractice claims
  • Practitioners with at least one malpractice payout were much more likely to face a second or subsequent claim
  • Physicians under age 35 had a much lower risk of a malpractice claim than older doctors

Moreover, out of the claims studied by researchers, only three percent were implemented by jury verdict – meaning the remaining 97 percent involved a negotiated settlement.

Patient protection and advocacy

Patients concerned about a physician’s malpractice record may feel slightly at ease knowing that federal law requires proper vetting of physicians prior to granting privileges. More specifically, hospitals and medical facilities are required to diligently inspect a doctor’s disciplinary background prior to allowing that doctor to practice medicine or offer direct patient care within the facility.

While individual patients themselves are not permitted to search the federal database of malpractice claims, hospitals and law enforcement are provided this opportunity – so patients can rest assured knowing the treatment facility has conducted a thorough background check. Likewise, patients in several U.S. states are allowed to request information regarding a physician’s malpractice history upon written request to the state’s medical board.

If you are enduring the aftermath of a medical mistake or surgical error, you may be eligible to initiate a medical malpractice claim against the provider responsible for your pain.

Contact The Sanders Firm at 1.800.FAIR.PLAY to schedule a free case evaluation if you believe you have been the victim of hospital malpractice.


  1. CBSnews.com, Small number of doctors behind big share of malpractice claims, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/small-number-of-doctors-behind-big-share-of-malpractice-claims/

  2. HuffingtonPost.com, Many doctors who commit malpractice are serial offenders, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/doctors-malpractice-research_us_56a94bece4b05e4e37033d00